American Health Extremes: Why Can’t We Live in Balance?

Health extremes are part of the American way and that needs to change.

If you have a burger and fries on Saturday, and some pizza and one too many beers on Sunday, do you start a juice cleanse on Monday? If so, you’re a true, blue American who embraces health extremes—and that may not be such a good thing.

The American food culture is all about convenience. And American society’s love for convenience is fueled by too-busy schedules and long work days. That combination isn’t good for a society who too often picks takeout and quick-fix “cleanses” over preparing whole food home-cooked meals.

The American diet is an exercise in extremes. How can we find the middle ground?” target=”_blank”>Grist details these health extremes quite bluntly:

“This is one end of the spectrum — the all-nutrients-included protein bar, shoveled down in between meetings to achieve a bare minimum of sustenance. At the other: Standing in line for two hours for chicken and waffles and bottomless mimosas at the latest addition to the Eater 38. And then, inevitably, punishing oneself for all that fried food and bubbly with a juice cleanse.”

This cycle of deprivation and indulgence is the opposite of the diet mantra that really works: “Everything in moderation.”

While this cycle isn’t exactly great for the human body, it isn’t helpful to the food system or climate, either. So, if our modern diet is bad for the environment and is bad for us, why don’t people change? Probably because that changes seems unattainable.

“I fear that some of the dialogue that happens around food systems change and tackling the obesity epidemic presents this [argument of]: ‘We have to get rid of everything we’ve got going in order to fix things,’” Sophie Egan, director of programs and culinary nutrition for the Strategic Initiatives Group at the Culinary Institute of America and author of “Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies — How What We Eat Defines Who We Are,” says.

“And it just feels so unattainable to many people.”

So, to help things along, Egan thinks those who want to institute change should start by changing American culture.

Countries, such as France and Sweden, have cultures that appreciate good food, communal eating, and a healthy work/life balance. But America? Not so much.

However, there are some American events that actually do include culture, family and friends, and communal eating. One event that Egan wants to model? The Super Bowl.

Yes, really.

“It’s certainly not a really mindful dinner, but it is in people’s homes, and there’s a variety of things that really do have that same very comforting feeling of a holiday,” she says.

“[I wanted to] peel back deeper layers of meaning to the Super Bowl beyond its commercialism, and the zillion-dollar ads — because clearly if it’s that many eyeballs, that many people caring about something at one moment in time, there’s more to it.”

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Image of women eating via Shutterstock